I know today is a day for enjoying turkey and football (and, for some, resting up before waking up before the crack of dawn for crazy shopping deals), but here’s some quick, light reading about some hockey, Husky style, before you start your day.
Coming into this year, the St. Cloud State Huskies had high expectations. They were picked to finish either second or third in the league by the coaches and media, respectively, and why not? The Huskies were coming off their first-ever NCAA victory and despite some possible intangible issues regarding leadership (with the losses of Ryan Lasch and Garrett Raboin), they pretty much returned an intact team.
In other words, we were all pretty excited to see what they could do.
Then, however, the season comes around.
The Huskies start it off on the right foot with a win against Rochester Institute of Technology, but then they lose to Clarkson that same weekend.
They follow that up with a gain of only one point in a series with Miami.
Then a couple of splits — Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Bemidji State.
The Huskies then take only one point from league surprise Nebraska-Omaha before, most recently, finishing off with an extremely close split with Alaska-Anchorage. If you’ve been following with the math, it means the team is sitting at 5-7-2 (3-4-1 in league), just below .500, at seventh in the conference.
It all also adds up to some of us thinking they might be overrated and many of their fans are getting sick of seeing their team underperform.
So, the question then seems to be, why?
“We’ve been consistently inconsistent,” coach Bob Motzko said. “In the seven weekends we’ve played, we’ve played very well one game every weekend and struggled one game, in general terms. We can’t get on a roll in a better forward direction and we keep thinking we’re getting closer.”
One reason for this is the common answer to many of life’s problems.
“I think we’re overanalyzing right now; it kills you to overanalyze,” Motzko said.
Of course, the issue goes a bit deeper than that.
“Offensively, we haven’t come along as far as we’ve wanted in a couple areas,” Motzko said. “Defensively, we haven’t come as far; it’s pretty simple. There’s parts of our game right now [that] aren’t coming together as fast as we all hoped, from an offensive and defensive standpoint.”
Even though Motzko said on Saturday that his team doesn’t have a lot of confidence, he amended that statement a bit this week, perhaps after a bit of perspective.
“To me, it’s not as much confidence as it is it’s been a roller coaster, so we’ve had high emotions and that is what has hurt us the most and we’ve been a high emotion and a low emotion, this roller coaster emotional ride has been the biggest deterrent of solidifying things,” he clarified. “A break came at a good time for us right now. We need to maybe take a step back and charge back into this thing.”
So the team hasn’t jelled together and it’s partially because the season has played out like a massive emotional roller coaster. How does the team fix this? It seems the best way, according to Motzko, is to just go with the flow.
“It’s hard to know all of the answers, but the biggest thing is we like our hockey team, we like the pieces in there and we’ve just got to play better hockey,” he said. “I think that right now falls on our leadership and our coaching staff to solidify things the best we can and not let this thing be emotional and accept this kind of happens and have a belief things will get better.”
I’m sure that this isn’t all that comforting for the fans that have a vested interest in their team and are frustrated with the program, but, if it helps at all, Motzko said that he and his team empathize with you.
“We’ve got a group of guys that are trying to get this thing right and we’ve shown at times that we’ve got a chance, there’s no question,” he said. “I think a lot of the frustrations out there are the same that we have because it’s been a bit of a roller coaster.”
Whatever happened to MTU?
Michigan Tech was the surprise team of the WCHA, and indeed, college hockey, at the start of the season.
The team started off with a Superior Cup sweep, besting Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State, tied Northern a few days after that and then took three points from league foe Minnesota State. The Huskies were 3-0-2 and things were looking good.
Then, however, MTU delved deeper into its conference schedule and things started falling apart, and what seemed like the new-look Huskies instead turned into the same, tired, old familiar lovable loser Huskies, getting swept by Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota.
So, what happened? Was it just the college hockey world’s way of bringing things back to the “natural order” of things (at least in terms of the past couple years), as awful as that is to say? Or was it something else?
Coach Jamie Russell thinks it’s a combination of things.
“Of our first nine games of the year, six of them were on the road,” he explained, “and we were at some pretty tough buildings with at the Kohl Center for our first WCHA road weekend and then at Minnesota-Duluth, which is the No. 1 team in the country.
“And then last weekend, some injury situations,” he added, bringing up possibility No. 2. “We lost Brett Olson to injury, who’s our team captain, led our team in scoring last year, first-line center, first-line power play player, best penalty-killer, best face-off guy. Going into the weekend, we dismissed Eric Kattelus from the team. He was a second-line center, power-play guy, penalty killer.
“So five of our top six forwards right now are freshmen. It keeps it interesting.”
Interesting may not be the main word Tech fans might use, but the youth factor may explain why Tech, in the Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth series, was unable to hold the early leads it got in games unlike in games earlier in the season.
“I would say that’s definitely a factor,” Russell said. “After the season we had last year (5-30-1), playing with a lead was a brand new experience for a lot of our guys. And making decisions, being responsible with the puck, making sure that you’re staying disciplined, getting good goaltending when you have the lead … it’s been different things in different situations. But certainly the positive is we’re scoring more goals this year and we are starting games well and jumping out to a lead.
“With a young team, you’ve got to understand controlling momentum, you’ve got to understand controlling emotions [and] managing the highs and lows within a game.”
The last thing Russell thinks that might be contributing to his team’s issues is its schedule thus far.
“We’ve had three off weekends already this year and it’s certainly not an ideal schedule. We started off 3-0-2, followed that up with an off week; we play on the road at Wisconsin, we follow that up with an off week; we play four games, we come home for the first time in five weeks and we follow that up with an off week,” he said, sounding a bit exasperated, repeating once again that “it’s not an ideal schedule.”
In other words, if Tech can get healthy and get enough games at home and enough in a row to get in a flow, we may see a return of the early-October Huskies yet.
It’s been a rough year in some respects on the personal front, but a good year as well. Therefore, I’d like to quickly give thanks for the following: my fiancé, my family, work (though it can drive me crazy), friends (though many may be far), my health and the fact that taper weeks are such a vital part to training plans.